By STEVE KRAH
Getting more and better baseball experiences for the players in his program is the aim of Muncie (Ind.) Central High School head coach Norm West.
The 63-year-old has been in charge of the Bearcats since the 2018 season after three seasons as an assistant and three as head coach at Muncie Southside (which was consolidated into Central).
“It’s a challenge at Central,” says West. “Most of my kids don’t have the financial means to do the travel stuff.
“It’s pretty tough for us to compete. We play one heck of a schedule.”
Muncie Central, an IHSAA Class 4A school with around 1,300 students, is a member of the North Central Conference. The Bearcats are in the East Division with Anderson, Arsenal Tech of Indianapolis, Marion and Richmond. The West Division features Harrison of West Lafayette, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon. Divisions foes play each other twice then comes a seeded NCC tournament.
There has not been a junior high baseball program feeding Muncie Central for several years and that’s kept numbers down.
West, who started into high school coaching as a Southside assistant to P.J. Fauqher in 2008, says he hopes to correct the low participation numbers while building up the Bearcats in other ways.
“I want to leave the program better than when I got it,” says West.
There have not been many high schoolers in Limited Contact sessions because of fall-sports participation.
“Kids have got to be doing something,” says West. “I love to keep them in every sport they’re interested in doing.”
West has welcomes seventh and eighth graders to high school workouts.
“I’m just glad we’re getting to play again,” says West.
A self-employed masonry contractor, West has been added brick to the back stop and dugouts at Gene Bottorff Field — the Bearcats’ home diamond named for the former MC head coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.
“I want to make it a drawing card,” says West of Bottorff Field. “I want my kids to have somewhere nice to play.”
The Bearcats have been thrilled when they’ve had the chance to play at Ball State University. Few players have enjoyed the opportunity to take to the diamonds of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
By sprucing up the Muncie Central facility, it will allow for travel teams to play their in the summer.
A just-concluded fall league featured 84 players — including some middle schoolers — from 22 different Indiana schools with some coming from as far as Terre Haute, Columbus and Fort Wayne.
Playing mostly daylight to dark on Sundays, seven teams competed at Muncie Central.
“Kids are starving to play,” says West, noting how all players lost the spring season and much — if not all — the summer to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is a league designed to introduce kids to the high school game.”
It’s a also a revenue stream for the Bearcats program.
A 1974 graduate of Yorktown (Ind.) High School in Delaware County, West was a 5-foot-6, 155-pound left-handed pitcher for Tigers coach Joe Pena.
West got many hitters out using a a pitch with screwball action, meaning it ran into left-handed batters and away from right-handers.
Though injury limited his college career one season season, he pitched 31 innings and made three starts for the University of Louisville. He went the distance in a 3-2 loss to Indiana and notched another complete game in a 4-1 win against Xavier. He also earned a start in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament against Southern Illinois.
West landed at U of L when former Yorktown catcher Randy Delph — three years older than West — went to play for the Cardinals and recommended the left-hander to head coach Jim Zerilla.
“Don’t tell me you can’t make it,” says West. “I did.”
And not by throwing hard or racking up large strikeout totals — a lesson for his current players.
“The No. 1 thing is to throw the ball over the plate,” says West. “I don’t care how hard how hard you throw it if you can’t control it.
“Try to miss the barrel of the bat and get weak ground balls and and pop-ups. They got by pitch count now. The best inning in baseball is five pitches with two groundouts and a pop-up.
“I try to get my guys to think about pitching instead of just throwing.”
West’s assistant coaches are Ken Zvokel (the Muncie American Legion Post 19 Chiefs manager) plus Dave Garrett and Ball State University student Garris Rehfus.
While there are no college players among recent Muncie Central graduates, West sees potential.
“There are a couple of younger kids who have a chance if they work their hind end’s off,” says West.
After the injury that ended his college mound days, West came back home to work and raise a family. Norm and Jan West — who have been married for 45 years have three boys who all played baseball at Yorktown — Kyle (Class of 1996), Cory (Class of 2000) and Clay (Class of 2007). There are also three grandsons and three granddaughters. All live close-by for grandparents to get quality time.